A puffin is a puffin is a puffin. Right?

Let’s face it there are lots of places to photograph puffins, so why go to what might seem like the ends of the earth to do so? Fair Isle is a remote island just off mainland Shetland and getting to and from it is fraught with logistical uncertainties. Low cloud, rough seas and erratic timetables all conspire to render boats and planes less reliable than we have perhaps come to expect. Don’t go to Fair Isle then if you’re on a tight timetable. It’s not as if there are billions of puffins there either – like elsewhere in their range, they are in decline – so what makes Fair Isle special?

Lighting, background and viewpoint. These are 3 words that I encourage all photo tour guests to repeat to themselves over and over like a mantra. If you understand the importance of lighting, background and viewpoint, you will see the advantages of Fair Isle. Many of the puffin burrows and loafing areas are in areas of dense thrift, or sea pinks, making the setting particularly attractive. Most allow low, intimate perspectives and the vagaries of the weather throw up some fantastic lighting (as long as you’re prepared to wait). The best thing of all though is the fact that you have the puffins pretty much to yourself 24/7, allowing you to take advantage of the best light at either end of the day. All in all then, it’s a long way to go but from a photographic perspective, it’s one of the best places of all. Sorry, but a day trip to the Farnes just doesn’t compare.

Our Puffin Bootcamp this year focused on primarily just two colonies and we worked them hard with early rises and late finishes. In between the photo sessions we enjoyed fantastic hospitality at the Fair Isle Bird Observatory and we enjoyed lots of great banter – thanks primarily to the invention of the hairdryer and an American propensity for personal trainers (don’t ask but thank to J for being a great sport).

I hope you enjoy these images as much as I enjoyed taking them. Thanks to the folk who joined this tour – hope your legs, necks, backs and feet recover! Next year’s tour is already nearly full so if you’re looking for intensive puffin photography in a fantastic location, join us.

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7 thoughts on “A puffin is a puffin is a puffin. Right?

  1. Outstanding photos Pete! We had spectacular lighting opportunities during the week; even the morning of the light rain made for some creative shots. “Lighting, background, and viewpoint…Lighting, background, and viewpoint”

    Thanks to you and Mark for the help with my new camera gear. I managed a few sharp photos of puffins in flight, as well as other shots worthy of professional printing.

    The Fair Isle Bird Observatory is by far one of the most hospitable lodgings I’ve experienced. I highly recommend them to anyone who ventures out that far. It’s well worth the trip for the puffins, the friendly staff, and of course the built-in hair dryers… for those who prefer to go to bed at night with dry hair.

    We had a great group of guests on this tour… I made new friendships, learned from others, laughed a lot, and only regret it didn’t last longer.

    I’ll respond to the personal trainer comment after I work off that Sticky Toffee Pudding.

    Thanks for a great tour. Job well done!


  2. Yes Pete, a great few days on Fair Isle. Got up close and photographed the puffins.

    FIBO was a great place to stay.

    I enjoyed the few days photographing the puffins in good company and with like minded people.


    1. Steve,
      Sorry I missed saying goodbye to you and the others. I was trying to stay out of the way while you guys were trying to make your flights home on time.
      Hope your flight went well.
      Looking forward to Yellowstone!

  3. Hi–Those are some of the most beautiful puffin photos I’ve ever seen, full of atmosphere and highly unusual. I’m puffin-obsessed, having seen them on a trip to various islands in Scotland, but admittedly only from a distance. I wrote a novel for kids eight to twelve called DESPINA (see my website) and was very fortunate to have Stephen W. Kress, head of bird restoration for the National Audubon Society, read and critique it, and now the book is sold in the Project Puffin giftshop. I have a Q and A at the end of the book which explains what is scientifically true in DESPINA and what is fiction. Steve feels it would be a good addition in schools for teaching science in an offbeat way. Best, Diana Burgwyn

  4. A bit late now but Yes. Thanks everyone! It was a great experience and thanks to some well directed advice about flight-shots in particular I managed to capture some very good shots.

    As always it pays to keep your ears open when the more experienced photographers in the group are talking. You will always pick up some good ideas just by listening 🙂

    Thanks guys!

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